by Maxine Mayer, 10/29/98
(A "Sentinel"/"X-Files" Crossover Story)
(X-Rated for Theme & Language)
Walter Skinner strode down the length of the Cascade Airport, his eyes searching restlessly for his old friend. At last he lighted on the younger man and smiled.
"Jim! Old buddy! How you doing?" Walter cried, taking the last few steps up to Jim Ellison and dropping his flight bag. He embraced Ellison warmly and shook his hand.
"I'm good, Walt. Real good." Jim automatically grabbed Skinner's flight bag and clapped his friend on the shoulder, leading him outside the airport and into his waiting truck. "How you been? It's been years -"
"I'm well, thank you. Keeping busy." Skinner smiled.
"Busy? Work, you mean? I heard you and your wife broke up -"
"That's old news, Jim. I've got somebody new."
Jim raised an eyebrow. "You're looking pretty happy. It's working for you, then?"
Skinner took a deep breath. "Oh, yeah. Just - well, you know. The secrecy's a bitch. But - other than that - it's working." He glanced at Jim. "So, why'd you call me, Ellison. It's not because you missed me, is it?" he asked with a grin.
"Not hardly, man!" Jim maneuvered his truck a bit in the traffic then threw a look at Walter before concentrating on the road again.
"So. What is it, Jim?" Walter asked seriously. "Unrequited love? Somebody straight? Somebody you don't trust with your senses? With the truth? What?"
"No, nothing like that. The opposite, actually, Walter." Jim sighed heavily. "Look, I'm gonna pull in over there, by the mall. I can't drive and talk about this at the same time."
"Sure, whatever. Whatever makes you comfortable, buddy."
"Okay. Spill it, Jim," Skinner ordered, squeezing his friend's bicep and concentrating his gaze on Jim.
"It's - I've found someone. He's - he's been able to work with my senses. Help me out with them. He's - my Guide. Calls what I am, a Sentinel."
"That's great, Jim. I always hoped someone would come along who'd be able to help you put your gifts to good use."
"So. So, we were doing good, Walt, real good. Friends, hell, we even shared a place - you know, lived together. Got along great."
"And then?" When Jim didn't reply, Skinner finished his own thought. "And then you realized there was something more."
"It just - happened. Not too long ago. He - my Guide - he feels the same about me. But he's never done this before. Never been with a guy -"
"It's not exactly like you've done much along those lines, either, Jim. Or is it?"
"No. Since - us - I've been pretty quiet. A little of this, a little of that, when I was in Vice. But nothing serious, you know?" Jim looked at his old friend with absolute conviction that Skinner *would* know.
"I understand. And then this - thing - with your Guide, came up out of nowhere. Knocked you for a loop. But the problem is - what?"
"It's not working. We're crazy about each other. We're fine when we're just doing things together. At work, of course - he's my partner, even though he's not a cop. Helps me with my senses on the job. Or in our free time. Talking, watching TV, going to a ballgame or the movies. Eating out. Hanging around. But the minute we get into bed -"
"He doesn't like it?"
"No, it's not that. Blair - that's his name, Blair Sandburg - likes it. I think. I guess. The - kissing, the touching, the cuddling. The - I dunno - the romance."
"But the actual stuff?" Walter asked quietly.
"He likes to suck. He likes to be sucked. He likes to jerk me off, you know. And for me to jerk him off. But the rest -" Jim went silent for a moment. "I didn't push him, Walt, I swear it -"
"I know you didn't, Jim. Don't worry. I know that." Skinner didn't speak for a few minutes. Then he took a deep breath. "So, when can I meet Blair?"
"Tonight. He's home, making dinner. Thinks you're just an old service buddy I've kept in touch with. That you're in Cascade for some F.B.I. conference. He's looking forward to meeting you." Jim pinned Skinner with innocent blue eyes. "He doesn't know about us, Walt. I'd prefer if it remained that way."
"Sure, whatever. Long time ago. Water under the bridge. You've got somebody. I've got somebody. No need to drag up old times."
"Don't mention it, Jim."
"You'll try to figure out what's going wrong, Walt? I can't make head or tails of it. The kid's so smart, so willing. I know he loves me - maybe more than I love him. Because he's bigger than me, inside. He's got more heart than me. More to give. More inside." Jim paused. "Walter, I can't stand it - he's not happy. I know it. He doesn't let on but with my senses, I feel it, I know it -"
"Relax, Jim. I'm here now. I'll take a look-see. I've got a lot of experience with the bright ones. The best ones. The ones we're not worthy of. A lot of experience." Skinner grinned and winked at Jim. "A lot of experience with you, too."
Jim looked uncomfortable. He'd forgotten, almost, the relationship Walter Skinner and he had shared, so many years ago. Until he began to realize things weren't going right for him with Blair, and then Walt's kind face and absolutely trustworthy personality had come to mind. He knew his old lover went into the F.B.I. after leaving the military. Looking him up and asking him to come had been easy. Walt hadn't hesitated. "Yeah, a lot of experience with me, too," Jim murmured, forcing an embarrassed smile.
Encouraging, Skinner clapped him on the shoulder. "So, if *I* can't figure out what the problem is, nobody can." When Jim frowned, Walt added, "But I will, Jim. Don't worry. I'll help."
Skinner took one look at Blair Sandburg and mentally whistled. The Guide was gorgeous. Very intense. Perceptive. Welcoming. Happy. For a moment, Walter was confused. What made Jim think his Guide wasn't happy? The kid was obviously walking on air.
"I'm so glad to meet you - somebody from Jim's past," Blair was saying, moving into Skinner's space and guiding him directly to a chair at the dinner table. "This is so cool - I'm gonna bombard you with questions, I hope you won't mind!" Blair said, flashing a thousand watt smile, and obviously without any doubt at all that Skinner would not mind.
"No, that's fine, Blair. I'm happy to meet somebody who appreciates my old friend. He's a fine man but a little tough to get to know. You, however, seem like a man who wouldn't have any trouble breaking down barriers -"
"Oh, man, you are so right! Barriers - that's like the understatement of the century! This guy's got actual mountains - mountain ranges - but it's cool. I'd get bored if things got too easy," Blair remarked with another smile.
"That's not likely to happen," Walt rejoined, taking a sip of wine. Changing the subject, he dug into the food on his plate and remarked, "This is good, Blair. What is it?"
"Vegetable goulash. Old recipe from my mom. Glad you like it - I know you military types like your meat and potatoes straight but I'm a vegetarian. Jim's used to my cooking but -" Blair beamed another smile at Skinner and the older man almost shook his head as the smile impacted him.
This man's worse than Mulder, Skinner thought, chewing his food thoughtfully. What's Jim doing with him? This is ridiculous. Jim called him "kid." Even *I* called him a kid, in my mind. We're crazy. This is no kid.
"Walt, I've gotta go into the station after dinner - I'm on stakeout tonight. But I thought maybe you and Blair could do something together. You don't need to be at any F.B.I. meetings tonight, do you?"
"No, that'd be great, Ellison. I'd like to get to know your friend."
"Jim, I should go with you -" Blair put in.
"Not tonight, Chief. Tonight I'm teamed with Simon. You know this one's personal for him. You spend the evening with Walt - show him the sights of Cascade. I'll be home as early as I can get away."
"Okay, Big Guy, whatever you say," Blair replied sweetly, giving way to Jim's will without a murmur. "Just - be safe, okay?"
"I'll be fine, kid. And I know you will be, too, with Walt Skinner to watch out for you."
"Oh, yeah," Blair enthused with a grin. "That's one big mother you've saddled with me - I don't think anybody's gonna tangle with us with your old buddy around!"
Skinner winced, every nerve jangling at the strangeness, the wrongness of the relationship he was witnessing. This - dynamo - was all wrong. Jim, too. Jim was doing things all wrong. But Skinner hadn't put his finger on it yet. For a second, he wondered whether he should call on Mulder to join him here in Cascade - maybe this was an X-file in the making. Sentinel and Guide. Leader and Follower. Top and Bottom. Oh yeah, an X-file, all right. Who's on first, what's on second, Mulder would say.
He startled from his reverie to find two sets of absurdly blue eyes on him. "Hey, man," Blair murmured gently, "come on back. Come back to us. You're zoning, man."
"No, not zoning. Just - thinking," Skinner replied, shaking off his musings and pulling himself into the present. "I'm looking forward to a night on the town with you, Sandburg. Should make for interesting anecdotes when I get back home."
Blair had taken him to a bar he and Jim frequented. Then to a movie. Afterwards, they'd stopped for coffee at a small diner. Except during the movie, Sandburg kept up a stream of stories, asked a million questions and offered great quantities of information until Skinner was nearly dizzy with it.
And now Blair was focusing in on him really hard, pinning him with his impossibly blue eyes and asking him a question. "So, why are you really here, Walter Skinner? Why'd Jim ask you to come?"
There was no hesitation in Skinner's mind at all. He'd answer the question truthfully or forfeit Blair's friendship - along with any help he could give Ellison. "Jim asked me to come out here. He's - concerned about your relationship."
"Jim's not happy?" Blair asked, then swallowed hard.
"Ellison loves you to distraction. Beyond." Skinner took a deep breath. "He thinks you're unhappy about things but he's got it wrong, hasn't he?"
"Not entirely, Walt," Blair replied with a sigh. "Not altogether wrong."
"What is it?"
"We're the same as before - before things got physical, you know? Everything. So I don't understand -" Blair looked distressed. "It should be working. I love him so much - man, you've got no idea how much. And for how long." Blair shook his head. "Why isn't it working now?"
"I don't know. Tell me about what's going on with the two of you. You've gotta have figured out that Jim and I were together once, for a while. Long time ago."
"I know that. I knew it from the way he looked at you when he introduced you. He still cares about you. Trusts you. That's so rare, for Jim. It just had to mean that you knew everything there is to know about him and accepted him anyway," Blair replied with a wry twist to his lips.
"I guessed, back then, about his senses. His abilities. They drove him nuts and I couldn't really help with that but I cared for him and - shielded him - and I did love him."
"Walt, what's happening? I don't understand. I put everything I've got, everything I am, into this relationship. I Guide him as best I can. I let him take the lead - don't try to hold him back, protect him. I push away every impulse to drag him out of the line of fire -"
"Blair, he calls you 'kid,' he pushes you around as if you were a kid. He doesn't know who you are," Skinner said bluntly. "He's got no idea who you are."
"Oh, man, tell me what you mean! I've never kept any secrets from Jim - never. Except the one - that I was in love with him. And that's no secret any more. He knows me better than my own mother -"
"He doesn't understand, Blair. He thinks he's in charge of your relationship. He thinks he's the boss -"
"But he is, he is!" Blair put in earnestly. "I never try to push him around. He's in control, all the time. I know I've gotta take charge a little, when he's in trouble with his senses, with the Sentinel thing - but outside of that, he's the boss!"
"No, you're the one who doesn't understand, Sandburg."
"I don't get it - what am I doing wrong?" Blair asked, bewildered misery all over his face.
"Who's the top, in bed, Sandburg?"
"He is, of course," Blair replied, incredulity at the question evident in his tone. "Who else?"
"Me? You gotta be joking, man! I never even slept with a guy before Jim - never thought about it! If it weren't for his Sentinel abilities and my thesis, I'd never get close enough to a macho type like Jim Ellison to talk to him. I'd be too scared!"
"You're not scared of Jim, are you?"
"No, of course not."
"You don't seem particularly scared of a macho man like me, either," Skinner remarked casually.
"You'd never hurt me. Jim'd kill you," Blair said with a grin.
"That's not why."
"You're losing me here, Walter," Blair said seriously. "I stand up for myself when I have to. I'm small but I pack a wallop and I don't give a shit if I've gotta play dirty to defend myself. But this isn't a fight - Jim and I are in love. What are you getting at?"
"This is gonna be a little difficult to explain, Sandburg. Bear with me."
"Yeah, sure. Lecture mode. Hit it, I'm listening, all the way."
Skinner gripped his coffee cup and tried to think how to begin. At the beginning, Mulder would tell him. Begin at the beginning. Step by step, until you hit the end. If lightning flashes of insight come, go with them. Unlikely, though, in his case. He was no Mulder, no Sandburg. He was slow and steady. Begin at the beginning.
"You know about Jim and me. Guessed about us."
"Yeah," Blair muttered, a little sullenly.
"I'm not trying to rub your face in it, Sandburg. Just - I'm beginning at the beginning."
"Sorry, man. Go on."
"Ellison was a great soldier. We met when we were both on leave in Germany. I'd heard about him, even though we weren't in the same outfit." Skinner frowned, paused. "But I was a lot older than him. It mattered more then, when we were younger."
"I understand. Go on, man, get where you're going."
"A little patience, Blair. I'm not a genius. I don't do 'lecture mode' very well."
"I don't know what kinds of guys he'd been with before, but I imagine there weren't too many and I know for a fact that his relationships were unsatisfactory. They didn't last. Nothing stuck."
"I'm not surprised," Blair remarked quietly. "I don't think he opened up much, with anybody. That kinda puts a crimp in a relationship."
"When we met - well, Jim wasn't too happy that I pegged him for a fag. His words, not mine. He did a whole macho trip - tried to, anyway - while we were in the 'seduction phase' of the operation."
"Man, you sound like you're about to invade Cambodia, not get into bed with a guy!" Blair exclaimed.
"That's what it's like, sometimes, when you're in the closet and on the prowl, for us. Us, meaning, military types who don't know our asses from our elbows when it comes to anything important. Like love."
"Don't beat yourself up, Walter. Tell me your story, I'm listening."
"We managed to get out of the bar where we met without falling down drunk. We managed to get ourselves to my hotel room, and into bed. And we managed to get each other off without penetration." Skinner looked at Blair and added, "In other words, we avoided the 'who's on first, what's on second' part of our relationship."
"But the next time you weren't drunk? So it came up?" Blair said.
"That's right. You got it in one. It came up. I'd never been anything but top in all my years. Until - recently."
"And Jim had the same orientation, right?"
"That's right. It made for interesting nights. However, I got lucky. Jim fell in love with me. And that was it. I had carte blanche. Nothing was too good for me. Nothing I wanted was denied, ever. And with his senses, he had no trouble figuring out what turned me on. I don't know if it bothered him - he certainly didn't *show* anything - but he bottomed out nicely and seemed to like it."
"Jim? You're kidding, right?"
"Not kidding, Blair."
"Well," Blair said thoughtfully, obviously trying to make sense of things, "you're a big guy - it's not so hard to imagine you topping -"
"Cut the crap, Sandburg! You're an anthropologist. You gotta know this isn't a size thing! It's a personality thing!"
"Jim's in charge. Always -" Blair muttered automatically.
"That's not what you told me earlier, Sandburg."
"Not when his senses are involved - then, I've gotta be alert, on top of things - but otherwise, he's the man, that's the way it is, Skinner." Blair was angry now, and it showed.
"That's the way it is? Or that's the way you think it should be? Or that's the way *Jim* thinks it should be?"
"It's how it is, man. We both know it. What are you trying to do, here? You're no friend of Jim's if you want to take away his lead, his power!"
"Blair Sandburg, wake up and smell the roses! Jim Ellison submits to you in every important part of his life! His work as a cop is controlled by you, because you're in charge of his senses! He uses them as you think he should. As you push him to, prod him to, teach him to use them! Why the hell do you think he does that?"
"Because he's got no choice, with his senses! I've got no choice. I'm his Guide. It's my job. But in our personal life, he's in charge. He's in control. It's his loft, his life that I'm horning in on. Hanging on to. What he says - goes!"
Skinner shook his head. "You weren't unhappy, were you? Not the way Jim thought, when he called me and asked me to come?"
"Of course I'm not unhappy! I've never been happier in my life! I love Jim! I'm flying, man! What the hell could be going on in Jim's head to make him think otherwise?"
"He thinks you don't like bottoming."
"What? What gave him that idea? I love it - being with him, having him possess me, want me, love me! It's heaven, Skinner! He's crazy!"
"No. He's a Sentinel. He knows."
"No. He's not. He's right. I thought you were trying to pull the wool over *his* eyes, when I met you. Now I see you're just pulling the wool over your own."
Blair thumped his back against the diner booth cushion, then leaned forward and rubbed his forehead with the back of one hand.
"I really don't understand, Walt. Obviously, you think I should top. I can't even imagine it. We've hit an impasse. But if Jim's unhappy because he thinks I'm unhappy, I'm gonna need to try to imagine it. To do something about it."
"Maybe. Maybe not," Skinner replied slowly.
"You are really getting to me, man," Blair said, his voice dangerous with banked anger. "You better come up with a solution before I punch you out for thinking up a problem."
"I think I've got a solution," Skinner said, licking his lips and taking a deep breath. "But you can't explain it to Jim. Or even let on that something's changed." Skinner raised one hand against Blair's objection which was sure to be forthcoming. "But he'll know things are okay, and that's the goal, right?"
"Right," Sandburg bit out. "Go on."
"You've got to take charge - everywhere. Not just on the job with Jim's senses. Everywhere."
"Oh, man - you're talking impossible, here. That's just not in the cards."
"How much do you know about the fringe elements of the sex scene?" Walter asked.
"The fringe - sado-masochism, bondage, submission, punishment, that stuff - leather."
"If I told you 'nothing,' I'd be exaggerating," Blair remarked with a grin. "Less than nothing."
"In that scene, there's a dominant partner and a submissive one."
"Well, of course, I knew that much. Sorta goes without saying, doesn't it?"
"Yes. Goes without saying. But it gets said, you know, Blair. At some point, in a pick up, partners identify themselves to each other. Sometimes it's only a hint. Something they wear. A way of moving. But it's revealed."
"I'd have thought it would be obvious - who's dominant, who's submissive," Blair said.
"Well, it's not. It's not at all obvious. You can't tell by gender, of course. You can't tell by body build or weight, either. Or size."
"I know where you're going and you're wrong, Skinner."
"You've got no idea where I'm going and I'm right."
Blair continued to project defiance for a few moments and Skinner waited until the younger man thought it through and reverted to rationality. "Okay. Go on."
"Sometimes, an inexperienced partner in a dominant/submissive relationship resists his role."
"I guess you mean, without knowing it, right? Because he agreed to it, right? That's what you meant before - that it was 'revealed?'"
"Right. Without realizing he's doing it, an inexperienced submissive resists. Tries to take charge of the relationship, the sex. Asserts his will, goes out of character in the scene."
"It's a role, Blair. It's a scene. It's not real. It's - fantasy."
"Yeah, okay, I get it."
"So, when that happens, they call it being topped from the bottom."
"What?" Blair exclaimed.
"Being topped from the bottom. That's what it's called. Most dominants don't much care for being topped from the bottom. Being pushed around, so to speak, by the submissive partner. Prodded to do things faster, harder, slower, gentler - the bottom's way, rather than their own way. It defeats the purpose, for one thing. For both partners. Most dominants don't like that at all."
"Jim. Jim likes it -" Blair gasped out, his voice faltering as the insight struck him with the force of a lightning bolt.
Skinner nodded. "I think Jim would like it. After all, he's a cop. He's always on top, in a manner of speaking. Never gets much chance to relax. Never gets a chance to let somebody else do the work, make the decisions, choose the way things go. If sex is good, it's gotta be a way of getting out of yourself - leaving the roles you live in the outside world behind, for a while. Leaving the burdens and responsibilities of everyday life behind, outside the bedroom. Letting yourself go."
"Letting somebody else take charge.... " Blair murmured.
"I don't know if Jim's ready to do that on a conscious level. Admit to himself he'd rather be the submissive than the dominant partner. But he's the one who bitched about something being wrong between the two of you. And you're obviously happy as a lark, with him. So he must be the one who's not as happy as he'd expected to be, wanted to be.... "
"He wants me to take charge, even at home?" Blair's voice reflected his bewilderment.
"Even in bed?"
"It's called topping from the bottom. Sometimes it's what I said - just an inexperienced bottom who's dropped out of character. But sometimes it's the way things must be done, to make them right. Think you can handle it, Sandburg?" Skinner asked with a small grin.
"Handle it? It's my middle name!" Blair replied, another thousand watt smile lighting up his face.
"I figured it might be," Skinner replied wryly. "You're a natural top if I ever saw one."
"Know so. I've got my own at home. So I know."
"Manipulative sonuvabitch, is he?" Blair asked, grinning.
"Just the way I like him. Melts my bones. I take off my glasses and I get the ride of my life."
"Topped from the bottom?"
"Well, I'm not an inexperienced person, Sandburg. I'm topped every which way. And I love it."
"Can we go now?" Blair asked plaintively, a look of yearning infusing his features with warmth.
He's just about irresistible in this mode, Skinner thought. "Yeah, sure. Ellison's probably home by now -it's almost three."
"Look, Walt, I'm grateful and all, but - "
"Just get us a cab, Sandburg, and drop me off at my hotel. I'll pick up my bag in the morning."
"Not too early," Blair cautioned, bouncing on his feet.
Skinner relented. "Okay, I'll buy shaving gear in the hotel. I won't visit until you guys call me."
"We'll call. Don't worry. But - not too early," Blair explained earnestly
Skinner laughed. "You're the quickest study I've met in years - except for my own buddy."
"What can I tell you - it's a gift!"
"For both of you, Sandburg, for both of you."
This is a "Sentinel"/"X-Files" Crossover story - and as strange as can be. I don't know in which fan fiction story I read it, but at some point someone says to someone else - in an "X-Files" story, I think - that they don't like being "topped from the bottom." This phrase resonated in me for weeks after reading it - and the story above, too, which came to mind full-blown, when I read those words. If anyone remembers the title, author and URL of the story where this phrase appeared, please e-mail me and tell me. I'd love to read it again and give the author credit and thanks for the story idea.
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